Forget boring banks and cuckoo clocks, a city break in Switzerland offers a wide range of cultural and dining opportunities, plus the chance to enjoy some of the country’s easily accessible beauty

To many, a holiday in Switzerland is synonymous with stunning mountain scenery, winter sports and summer hiking, its cities serving merely as transport hubs. But those cities are home to a wealth of art, architecture and design; they are gastronomically diverse; and with excellent transport links, it’s very easy to take a rail trip into the mountains or to a nearby town, or perhaps a boat trip on one of the country’s many lakes.

Whether you want to enjoy some culture, to socialise in modern or traditional bars and restaurants, or simply relax, there’s a Swiss city break to fit the bill; and in most towns and cities you can combine all three.

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Culturally, there is much to see, from the architecture of historic towns to the many museums and exhibitions. St Gallen in eastern Switzerland has a charming, traffic-free old town. Colourfully painted oriel windows are a feature, and the Abbey precinct with the Baroque cathedral and Abbey Library was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

The Fondation Beyeler in the Basel suburb of Riehen is home to around 200 masterpieces of the 20th century. It is also famous for its outstanding temporary exhibitions and the architecture of Renzo Piano, who created this spectacular space for the collection of Hildy and Ernst Beyeler in 1997.

In Winterthur, the Fotomuseum serves as an art gallery for contemporary photography and works by 19th and 20th century masters, and a cultural, historical and sociological museum of applied photography. It has gained a reputation as one of Europe’s most innovative venues for the photographic arts.

Lausanne is home to a lively bar and restaurant scene. Les Arches is one of the city’s most fashionable bars, and marks the beginning of the recently renovated Flon quarter. The old warehouses in this former industrial area have been given a new lease of life: by day, the Flon is a chic shopping haven; by night, it’s the focus of Lausanne’s nightlife, with cinemas, restaurants, bars and clubs.

The Café du Marché is a classic Geneva bistro, and traditionally has catered for customers of the markets across the road on the Plaine de Plainpalais. With its high ceilings and vintage Swissair posters, it’s also the perfect place for a romantic dinner, an aperitif with friends, or a Sunday brunch.

Restaurant Grotto Figini in the Collina d’Oro area of Lugano, once one of the city’s most traditional grottos, has been transformed into a place where you can enjoy Swiss-Italian cuisine in a modern and cosy atmosphere. The sound of pans and spoons can be heard from its open kitchen, and the wine list is outstanding.

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For relaxation, take a leisurely stroll through Bern’s old town, where four miles of medieval arcades lead from the railway station via the Bundesplatz to the Bear Park – all protected by UNESCO. Then wander down to the beautiful green River Aare, which flows swiftly around the town. If you choose to base yourself in Bern, stay at the modern Hotel Allegro, which has views over the old town and the Bernese Alps as a backdrop.

In Zurich, the new Thermal Baths & Spa offer the opportunity to swim through the 100-year-old stone vaults of the former Hürlimann brewery and bathe in the open-air rooftop pool, from where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Lucerne enjoys an enviable setting by the lake, surrounded by mountains, and an excursion to Mount Rigi should be high on your ‘to do’ list. Hop on the boat to Vitznau and take the cog railway up the mountain. This journey alone is a truly unforgettable experience, while the panoramic view across the Alps from the summit is breathtaking.

This feature was published in the 2013 autumn issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.